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Sunday, October 30, 2011
6WH: Week 6 - The Slasher Calendar (Again)
I've done this before
, so I won't go over why so many slasher films are centered around holidays and dates, but yeah, they are. I don't know that I've seen every holiday slasher, but there are certainly enough that you could create a calendar of events throughout the year, with at least one or two slashers per month. Fortunately, there are some holidays that are still open, so if I were to actually make a slasher, Flag Day is still available (perhaps I could combine it with jellyfish and crocoroids
). Anyway, in visiting the calendar this year, it's become clear that I've exhausted most of the good holiday slashers, and am in the distinct second or third tier. But no matter. Slashers are like cinematic comfort food. So let's get on with it:
- Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
- My Bloody Valentine (trailer)
- The Hitchhiker's Guide To Murder (short)
- Mother's Day - Made not too long after Friday the 13th, this one was still early enough in the popularity of slashers that it doesn't strictly adhere to all the tropes the way a lot of movies afterwards did... It turns out that this was a Troma video, which basically means it's really weird and ultra-low budget (and it's worth mentioning that low budget in 1980 is way worse than low budget in 2011 - these movies look pretty bad these days). So pure B-movie exploitation here. The movie is basically about a trio of women who go camping every year, only this year they chose to camp near an old lady and her nefarious sons, who have a habit of kidnapping and raping girls at the behest of their mother.
So there are some elements of the slasher here, but it's arguably not a slasher. It's also somewhat unpleasant and it doesn't really make a ton of sense. It probably goes on too long too. On the other hand, we've got a little old lady in a neck brace who is pretty awesome, and I have to admit that I loved the last shot in the film, which kinda left me with a better opinion of the film than it probably deserves from any objective evaluation. Only really for genre completists, but maybe some others would get something out of it... **
- Halloween (trailer)
- Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
- Hardly Working: Slasher (Short)
- Graduation Day - Ah, now this is more like it. Another Troma movie, but this is textbook slasher material right here. We've got a tragedy from the past (though not quite the distant past) and a mysterious killer seemingly avenging that tragic death. The film centers around a track and field team (cue obligatory team photo, with members crossed off one by one as the killer makes the rounds). One of the members of the team died of a blood clot earlier in the year, and now other teammates are dropping like flies. The potential suspects are numerous. It seems that everyone is sporting a gray sweatsuit and black gloves (and a stopwatch), just like the killer. The weaponry tends towards the bladed variety, including that badass fencing helmet (good idea for the mask, though its only used a few times). As a whodunit, it's not lighting the world on fire, but it gets the job done. The budget is still super low, and it shows during the kill sequences, which are somewhat creative, but which also would have benefited from some more expertise on the special effects side. They try to get around it with clever camerawork, and sometimes even succeed, but there's only so much you can do with that. Ultimately, this hit the spot much better than Mother's Day did, though its ending isn't quite as great and it's clearly not on par with the best examples of the genre. **1/2
- Uncle Sam (trailer)
- Silent Night, Deadly Night (trailer)
- April Fools Day (trailer)
- New Year's Evil - Probably somewhere between the previous two films in terms of hitting the slasher tropes, the thing that struck me the most about this movie is how much better it looks. I'm certainly not talking blockbuster stuff here, but it clearly had a bigger budget, and you can see that in every aspect of the filmmaking. Though it doesn't hit all the right conventions of the slasher, there are some interesting things going on here. The film takes place on New Year's Eve, where a radio/TV host is counting down New Years across the time zones. She takes a phone call, and a guy calling himself "Evil" informs her that he's planning to kill someone every hour, on the hour. At first, everyone thinks it's a crank call, but then dead bodies start showing up. It's actually pretty fun, and unlike a lot of slashers, you spend a lot of time with the villain. He seems frighteningly normal and even charismatic (and he's a master of disguise! Look at that porno 'stache!), again quite unusual for slashers.
There's way too much 80s rock music and the film unravels towards the end. There are some interesting twists, but I don't think they really figured out a great ending. Well, I shouldn't say that, as the last shot works well enough, I guess, but everything leading up to that feels kinda rushed and disjointed. Ultimately, still a second-tier film, but one probably worth watching for fans of the genre. I actually quite enjoyed it. **1/2
Well there you have it. I can't believe Halloween is tomorrow. This whole season flew by. I'll probably post my typical Speed Round post on Wednesday, as I've seen a bunch of movies that didn't quite fit with previous weeks' themes. And quite frankly, I'm still in the mood for horror. We may just need to make this the 8 weeks of Halloween or something. Have a great Halloween!
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Dr. Anton Phibes' Abominably Erudite, Musically Malignant, Cursedly Clever Halloween Horror Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes
, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth
, David Huxley
, Professor Fate
, Professor Russell Johnson
, Dr. Smith
, Professor Peabody
, Professor Severus Snape
, and Professor Ed Avery
, are also available... But now, here are my answers to the sinister Dr. Phibes:
1) Favorite Vincent Price/American International Pictures release.
It is perhaps dreadfully uncool to pick the film the entire quiz is named after, but my pick is honestly The Abominable Dr. Phibes
. It's a fine film by itself, but it's also much more influential than most of its contemporaries, influencing the likes of Seven
and even Saw
(not to mention the franchise that spawned and the whole torture porn sub-genre).
2) What horror classic (or non-classic) that has not yet been remade would you like to see upgraded for modern audiences?
This is quite a difficult question. For one thing, a lot of movies that get remade have no real need of a remake - they're perfect the way they are. So what does need a remake? Well, there are some movies, no matter how great they are, that are just products of a different time, and could use some updating. There are some movies that just don't have enough of a budget or production value, and they could also benefit from a remake. Finally, there are movies that have a really neat premise that fall down when it comes to execution. That last one is especially difficult because they're not normally good or beloved, and thus are unlikely to be greenlit by a studio exec. But for the purposes of this question, there are no studios or commercial concerns, so what movie to pick? Well, when it comes to classics, the obvious choice would be Creature from the Black Lagoon
- the only of the old Universal monsters that hasn't been updated and redone ad nauseum. The reason for the Gill-Creature's lack of remake probably has less to do with the popularity of the character than to the fact that it was one of the few Universal creature features that was totally original. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy (which is mildly arguable, but I'm including it anyway) are so popular because the characters are in the public domain (Universal owns some aspects of the appearance of the various monsters, but that is easily avoided because the characters themselves are not). Because of this, characters like Dracula can be continually reinterpreted and reinvented for new audiences and generations. Indeed, Dracula has racked up over 200 appearances in film - one of the most portrayed fictional characters in all of cinema. But the Gill monster? It will never be as popular because Universal had so tightly controlled the copyright... at least, not until the film enters the public domain. On the other hand, maybe it's a silly movie that wouldn't survive a reinvention. But we won't know unless we get someone talented to give it a shot, and it's probably worth trying.
3) Jonathan Frid or Thayer David?
Well, I've never been much of a Dark Shadows kinda guy, so I'm afraid I can't really give a good answer for this, except to say: Jonathan Frid. Because I feel like it.
4) Name the one horror movie you need to see that has so far eluded you.
There are a lot of questions like this in these quizzes, and my answers tend to fall on a particular era of film: Silent Films. In keeping with that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
is probably the one classic horror film that has so far eluded me. Along with several hundred others, but I keep thinking to myself: Self, you should really become more acquainted with the Silent Era.
And then I promptly ignore that impulse. Indeed, for this year's 6 Weeks of Halloween marathon, I had originally intended to devote a week to silent films (including Caligari
), but there's only one week left, and I really want to watch me some slasher films. But I will get to silent horror at some point. Oh yes.
5) Favorite film director most closely associated with the horror genre.
A truly difficult and tricky question. Does someone like David Cronenberg count? He spent the first decade or so of his career putting out solid or even great horror films, but he has since moved on to other genres (mostly). How about John Carpenter? He's made two of my favorite movies of all time (Halloween
and The Thing
), but he's also made some stinkers and he hasn't even made a decent movie in over 15 years (though I have yet to see The Ward
). Maybe it's just that I'm bad at picking favorites. Names are just coming to me. Mario Bava. Don Coscarelli. Alfred Hitchcock (does he count?) Sam Raimi. Wes Craven. Jeeze, we could be here for a while. I'll stop now.
6) Ingrid Pitt or Barbara Steele?
Hey, I'm actually mildly familiar with these two. Mildly. I'll go with Ingrid Pitt, because I've seen her in more things, but Barbara Steele is no slouch...
7) Favorite 50’s sci-fi/horror creature.
A tough one. The Gill Creature kinda qualifies (is that really sci-fi?), but in the interest of variety, I'll go with The Blob
. There's something just so great about the inhuman, unfeeling nature of the blob.
8) Favorite/best sequel to an established horror classic.
is the first to come to mind, but while it's quite a tense affair, I don't know that I would call that a horror film (though the Alien
certainly was) so much as an action/adventure/thriller. The other obvious choice is Bride of Frankenstein
, a film many believe is better than the original (though I'm not with them on that, it's still among the best sequels). And while I wouldn't call anything in the Friday the 13th series "classic", I do have an inordinate fondness for Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI
. Yeah, did I say I have trouble picking favorites? Because I do. Oh, and Phantasm II
. And definitely Evil Dead II
. Ok, I'll stop now.
9) Name a sequel in a horror series which clearly signaled that the once-vital franchise had run out of gas.
This one's really hard, because there are so many horror series, all of which run out of gas from time to time, only to be revitalized (even if only for a short time). There are probably a bunch of Dracula movies that would fit that mold. But what the hell, I'll just say A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
, which just stopped the series in its tracks (not that it was soaring so high at that point, but still) and I don't think it ever really recovered...
10) John Carradine or Lon Chaney Jr.?
These two actors have over 500 films to their credit. Yikes. I'll go with Lon Chaney Jr., for The Wolf Man
11) What was the last horror movie you saw in a theater? On DVD or Blu-ray?
Last horror movie I saw in the theater was Paranormal Activity 3
(I was surprised that the series had not worn out it's welcome - I generally enjoyed it
). On DVD, it was Lucio Fulci's goretastic The Beyond
(fun, but not much to it other than gore, which I will grant, is pretty awesome in that movie). On Blu-Ray, it was Dylan Dog: Dead of Night
, a mildly diverting film that was enjoyable enough, though again, nothing special. On Netflix Streaming, it was The Sentinel
, a decent 70s haunted house film that is nevertheless kinda sloppy and disjointed and very weird. Interesting, but nothing to go crazy about.
12) Best foreign-language fiend/monster.
The most obvious answer would be Godzilla
, though I've never been a particularly huge fan of those movies. The "fiend" part of the question does indeed open this up to probably too broad of a category, so I'll just leave it at Godzilla.
13) Favorite Mario Bava movie.
Oh, this is a difficult one, but after a microsecond of thought, I'll go with Blood and Black Lace
Blood and Black Lace
14) Favorite horror actor and actress.
Oh, this is an easy one, right? Cause there aren't that many actors or actresses that do a lot of horror films, right? RIGHT? Ok, fine, I'll go Boris Karloff for the actor, and Jamie Lee Curtis for the actress.
15) Name a great horror director’s least effective movie.
John Carpenter's Vampires
and Ghosts of Mars
. Another question that could probably have a thousand answers, unfortunately.
16) Grayson Hall or Joan Bennett?
Again with the Dark Shadows? I decline to answer. Ok, fine, Joan Bennett. There. You happy now?
17) When did you realize that you were a fan of the horror genre? And if you’re not, when did you realize you weren’t?
When I was in fifth grade, I hated horror films. Or, at least, I was terrified of them and avoided them at all costs. Then, one halloween, I spent the night at a friend's house, and we watched Halloween
. Nothing like peer pressure to get you to watch something you wouldn't normally watch. And I was shocked to realize that I loved
the movie. I was hooked. I started watching all the 80s slashers that came on TV (through my fingers at first, then when I realized that it wasn't that bad, I really started to eat up horror films), and now I watch nothing but horror movies for the six weeks leading up to Halloween every year. Not to mention all the other horror films I watch throughout the year.
18) Favorite Bert I. Gordon (B.I.G.) movie.
I can't say as though I've seen a lot of his movies, but Empire of the Ants
comes to mind.
19) Name an obscure horror favorite that you wish more people knew about.
This is a hard one because "obscure" can be a relative term. What constitutes obscure for a horror fanatic? It's difficult, because horror fanatics watch a lot of obscure movies just for the hell of it. But my pick will be Mute Witness
, a movie that I rarely hear about, even in horror film circles. I won't ruin it by talking too much about it, but it's about a mute woman who witnesses a murder and then has to escape the clutches of the murderers, even though she's in a remote area and can't speak.
20) The Human Centipede-- yes or no?
Yes. Look, it's a disgusting concept, but I have to admit that the first film is reasonably well made and even restrained. It was nowhere near as bad as I feared. On the other hand, the sequel
is pretty foul. But even that is well shot and there's something interesting about what he chose to do in that movie. These are films I would probably never recommend to anyone, but if you're inclined to watch disgusting movies, these are fine.
21) And while we’re in the neighborhood, is there a horror film you can think of that you felt “went too far”?
The aforementioned IMDb - The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence
is certainly a candidate, but the one that came to mind after that was Martyrs
, a film I have a lot of respect for, but which also made me wonder what the hell I was doing watching this thing.
22) Name a film that is technically outside the horror genre that you might still feel comfortable describing as a horror film.
Genres are inherently fuzzy. That's part of their charm! That being said, a couple examples would be Blue Velvet
and The Silence of the Lambs
and maybe even Se7en
. Did I mention that I'm bad at picking just one film?
23) Lara Parker or Kathryn Leigh Scott?
Alright, Jesus, I'll watch Dark Shadows, ok? Just stop giving me these choices!
24) If you’re a horror fan, at some point in your past your dad, grandmother, teacher or some other disgusted figure of authority probably wagged her/his finger at you and said, “Why do you insist on reading/watching all this morbid monster/horror junk?” How did you reply? And if that reply fell short somehow, how would you have liked to have replied?
I haven't been around too much of this sort of attitude, so I don't really have an answer prepared, but I'm sure I could come up with something about the nature of fear or something. And quite frankly, anyone who's so lacking in empathy that they can't understand why someone would *gasp* like something different than them
, is probably not worth responding to...
25) Name the critic or Web site you most enjoy reading on the subject of the horror genre.
Brian Collins and his amazing Horror Movie a Day
. I don't know how he does it.
26) Most frightening image you’ve ever taken away from a horror movie.
A difficult one, as the most frightening stuff, for me, is the stuff that's not shown. But just to answer the question, I'll say Phantasm
has quite a few shots that haunt me...
27) Your favorite memory associated with watching a horror movie.
Well, I've already mentioned my first viewing of Halloween
, so I'll call out my first viewing of Paranormal Activity
. Before it got hyped to high heaven, it was just a small film, struggling to get a release. The filmmakers managed to wrangle some midnight screenings (and later used footage of the crowds in their trailer), one of which I got to attend. It was a big and fun crowd, there were lots of scares, and as a midnight showing, I didn't get home until around 2:30. And if you've ever seen the movie, you know that all the bad things that happen... happen at around that time. Let's just say that I stayed up for a while after that.
28) What would you say is the most important/significant horror movie of the past 20 years (1992-2012)? Why?
Two films come to mind. Scream
's postmodern approach made it ok to make horror movies again. I know a lot of people don't like it or love it, but it is an important film, if only for the influence it's had on the genre. The other film would be The Blair Witch Project
. It wasn't the first found footage, mock-documentary film (nor was it even the only one made that year!), but I think it might be the most effective one, and given the strength of the format over the past decade or so, I think that deserves a callout.
29) Favorite Dr. Phibes curse (from either film).
"Death of the first born" from The Abominable Dr. Phibes
. Ironically, an quasi-unsuccessful curse, as well. But it was elaborate and horrifying, moreso than most of the others.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
30) You are programming an all-night Halloween horror-thon for your favorite old movie palace. What five movies make up your schedule?
Well, at least you didn't say I could only pick one movie.
Are you sure I can't pick 10 movie movies? Or maybe 20? This is hard, but I'll leave it at those 5, as I could be here all night tweaking the list.
And there you have it, another great quiz. I'm already looking forward to the next one!
Sunday, October 23, 2011
6WH: Week 5 - Haunted Houses
Well, the past 5 weeks have flown by much quicker than expected (perhaps because of the first two weeks or so were taken up by Fantastic Fest). This week's theme is haunted houses, so let's get this party started:
- Just Take One (short)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror: Bad Dream House
- Jacob's Ladder (trailer)
- Session 9 - Ah, nothing like a good old haunted hospital, is there? Hospitals are creepy in and of themselves, and dilapidated abandoned hospitals even more so. Hospitals are a place of sickness and death. They're supposed to be clean, but an abandoned hospital is always dirty and grimy. The history of medicine being what it is, it also calls to mind strange experiments and lobotomies and whatnot. In this case, we follow a group of workers seeking to remove asbestos from Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts. Danvers was a real-life abandoned insane asylum, which lends the already effective setting some additional credibility. Of course, one of the workers finds a series of tapes detailing the titular "sessions" with a woman and her multiple personalities. The setting is probably the most effective part of the film, though there are some nice twists and turns in the story. Ultimately it's not quite as scary as I'd have liked, but it made for interesting watching. **1/2
- Shining (Fake Trailer)
- Grindhouse: Don't (Fake Trailer)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning
- House (aka Hausu) - Last week, I talked about a few loopy Wes Craven films, but the batshit quotient of this film puts those to shame. It is, of course, Japanese, and it's primarily comprised of profoundly weird and surprisingly funny sequences of pure lunacy. The sheer quantity of absurdity packed into this film is amazing. Filled with stylistic flourishes, fades and cuts, even including some animated sequences, and lots of other bizarre imagery, the film follows a group of Japanese schoolgirls as they visit one girl's aunt at her old mansion (which is, of course, haunted... I guess. It's not entirely clear what the hell is going on...)
Weirdly enough, the girls' names are mostly just funny superficial descriptions like Gorgeous (who is very pretty), Sweet (who likes to clean), Melody (a musician), and my favorite, Kung Fu (guess what she's good at). So yeah, here we have a woman lunging into a flying kick, striking a painting, which then floods the room with blood. Then a piano eats someone. It's a difficult movie to describe. The unrestricted flow of stream of consciousness here may not make much sense, but it's always compelling. I could probably watch this every day and not get bored with it. ***
- Paranormal Activity (trailer)
- The Blair Witch Project (trailer)
- The Ring Video Dating (Robot Chicken)
- Paranormal Activity 3 - Sequels are usually worse than the original, and prequels are even more likely to be horrible. The problem is usually that, by necessity, you know where the prequel will end. You may also know that certain characters need to survive, and so on. So the Paranormal Activity series has been quite unusual in that it now has not one, but two prequels. I loved the original movie, and the first prequel did a surprisingly good job of retconning the stories together (even if the chief premise of the film was starting to get tired). I expected the series to wear out its welcome in this third installment, but then I heard that it would be yet another prequel, this time taking place in the 1980s, when the two main characters from the first two films were only children. I don't know how they did it, but they effectively managed to retcon this movie into the series as well. Oh sure, it's the same gimmick: cameras all over the house, implausibly capturing weird things on video. And it does suffer from some typical prequalitis, as we know the two little girls will survive. The actions of "Toby" seem more contrived this time around too, as is the ultimate origins of the mythology that would drive the series. All that being said, there is something about the way this series is made that just gets under my skin. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who made the questionable "documentary" Catfish) show a good capability for storytelling here, and they manage to wring a bunch of tension out of the exhausted found-footage format of the series. It's not the greatest movie ever, but I'm surprised at how well this series has progressed (er, regressed?) If you liked the first two, it's well worth a watch... **1/2
And that covers that. Tune in on Wednesday for a my answers to a long horror movie quiz, and then next Sunday for another edition of the Slasher Calendar!
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
6WH: Link Dump: Other Halloween Movie Marathons
As you might expect, I'm not the only one drinking fiendish pumpkin beers and watching all sorts of horror films in preparation for Halloween. Here are a few blogs I follow that have been playing along with the season:
- Six Weeks of Halloween - I would be remiss if I didn't call out kernunrex first, as he's the whole inspiration behind my own 6 week marathon. As usual, he's putting me to shame with the sheer quantity of his movie watching and reviews. Definitely a must read during the season.
- Final Girl's Shocktober 2011 - Stacie's been listing a couple of her readers' favorite characters each day, often (but not alwasy) with some sort of connection between the two featured characters. Fun stuff, as always.
- Need Coffee - Widge and the gang are hamming it up, as usual, for their 32 days of Halloween. They seem to be featuring a lot of audio features in addition to the typical movie reviews and funny shorts/trailers that typically punctuate October horror marathons. Always worth following.
- Horror Movie a Day - In reality, October is just the month in which a bunch of bloggers aspire to become a pale imitation of Brian Collins, who watches and reviews a horror movie every single day, all year round, and has been doing so for over 4 years. I'm in awe of his dedication.
- Hey Look Behind You - Nikki has been doing her thing this month as well, including her usual focus on horror shorts.
- I'm leaving out hundreds of blogs here, but lucky for me, Countdown to Halloween has a pretty large list of other blogs doing the month of horror thing, so if you're still itching for more horror, check it out.
And I think that just about does it for now. Stay tuned for some more horror goodness on Sunday. Not sure if it will be haunted houses or another slasher calendar, but it's going to be awesome either way.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
6WH: Week 4 - Wes Craven
The six weeks of Halloween continues with three as yet unseen Wes Craven horror films, including some of his most recent work. Craven's an interesting director. He's worked primarily in horror and he's made at least two or three seminal films in that genre, but even his "lesser" works generally have something going for them. Even in films that don't necessarily work, he always manages to strike a nerve or two, which is more than could be said for most other directors. This week, I watched three of his films:
- Shocker (trailer)
- It's the Gifts That I Hate (Robot Chicken)
- The Serpent and the Rainbow (trailer)
- The People Under the Stairs - I was a little surprised at just how batshit insane this movie ended up being. It's a really, really strange film. It begins with some poor folk, including young Fool and Ving Rhames, attempting to rob the slum lords that have been making life hard. There's a persistent rumor of buried treasure in the rich folks' house, but things are not what they appear. Once the man and woman of the house show up, things start to get really crazy, thanks in large part to gleefully manic performances by Everett McGill and Wendy Robie (both of whom were apparently in Twin Peaks as well). It turns out that they're brother and sister and they've locked their kin in the basement and... holy shit, did he just get dressed up in a gimp costume and start shooting a shotgun at everyone?
Yeah, it's that kinda movie. The other character worth noting is the house itself. Filled with trap doors and secret passages, it's one of the best creepy houses out there. But aside from some well executed "Boo!" moments, it's not really much of a scary movie. Indeed, given the antics, it's actually rather funny. I can't really tell if that's intentional or not, but I had fun with it. It's certainly not a perfect film, but as I mentioned earlier, it does scratch a certain itch. **1/2
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI: Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace (sorry no vid online)
- Freddy Krueger: Registered Offender (short)
- A Nightmare on Elm Street (trailer)
- My Soul to Take - So if The People Under the Stairs was insane, this movie goes ahead and increased the Batshit quotient by at least 4 or 5. It doesn't make much in the way of sense, but it's strangely compelling and watchable nonetheless. There's something about a serial killer known as the Riverton Ripper and 7 kids born prematurely the night the Ripper was caught and disappeared (they never found the body, zomg!) Naturally, when the Riverton 7 turn 16, the Ripper comes back to kill them all. Or something. It doesn't really matter. It's just an excuse to do some slasher-esque horror, which isn't exactly groundbreaking, but which I generally enjoy. I guess you could say there's a bit of a whodunit as well, but in a movie this bizarre, it's hard to say whether or not it was all that well executed. It's not a particularly good movie, but like all of Craven's films, there's something that strikes a chord here. Sure, it's filled with dreadful teenage dialogue and whatnot, but it all comes together reasonably well. I think the film is a bit unfairly disparaged, even if it isn't particularly great. Perhaps because we know Craven is capable of more, but ultimately, I'd call this an interesting failure rather than an out-and-out failure. It's got some interesting elements and at least he's trying something strange and different, which is more than can be said about most other horror films these days. **1/2
- Wet Nightmares (short)
- Scream (trailer)
- How Scream Should Have Ended (short)
- Scream 4 - The first Scream film was a clever and self-aware slasher film, the culmination of two decades of horror films. The second film looked at slasher sequels, and like most of it's target films, it's not as good as the original. The third film tread that same familiar ground, and like most franchises that make it to a third film, that installment was pretty horrible too. So now we come to Scre4m (Screform?), where Craven teams up with the original writer, Kevin Williamson to take on the whole Remake/Reboot trend. The film opens with a familiar phone call sequence... with a twist. And it actually works really well. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie never quite lives up to the promise of those initial sequences. This isn't to say that it's bad, I actually quite enjoyed it. All the familiar faces are there, along with an all new teen cast that's just ripe for stabbing. In particular, I enjoyed Hayden Panettiere and Alison Brie, though neither is given much to do in the movie.
Still, it's all good fun. Some of the dialogue gets a bit too on-the-nose at times, and the premise is getting pretty tired by now, but it was certainly a big improvement over the third film and maybe even the second film (I haven't seen either in a while, but that's the impression I get). If you're a fan of slashers and dislike the general trend of remakes/reboots, check it out. ***
And that just about covers it for this week. Not sure what I'm going to hit up next week, but perhaps some haunted houses are in order!
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
6WH: Week 3.5 - Fear Itself
is a horror anthology TV series that ran on NBC in 2008. It's sort of the unofficial third season of the Masters of Horror
series which aired on Showtime, but this time it's on network television, so the episodes are shorter and feature less gore, nudity and profanity. Like MoH
, each episode is essentially an independent story made by different writers and directors, usually folks famous for their horror chops. And like MoH
, the series so far appears to be very uneven. So far, none of the episodes really approaches MoH
's best stuff, though one or two are mildly diverting enough to be worth watching for genre fans. It's available on Netflix streaming (and I feel ok saying that now that they've reversed the whole Qwikster debacle), so I've hit up a few of them this past week (note: apparently the series was aired out of the originally proposed order, which is how Netflix has it ordered):
- Eater: Director Stuart Gordon was the man behind two of the better episodes of the MoH series (not to mention Re-Animator), and from what I've seen so far, this is the best of the Fear Itself episodes. As you'll see below, that's sort of damning with faint praise, but this was actually reasonably well done. The story concerns a serial killer's layover in a small town police station. He's a cannibal, and of course, he knows some obscure form of Cajun magic. Our heroine is officer Danny Bannerman, played by Elisabeth Moss (she of The West Wing), and there's a nice supporting turn by Stephen Lee as well. The Cajun Cannibal is played by Stephen R. Hart and he's certainly an imposing presence. There's some nice creepy moments and stingers in the episode, but the ending is ultimately a bit weird. Still, the most satisfying of the Fear Itself episodes I've seen so far.
- Spooked: This is director Brad Anderson's (of Session 9 fame) contribution, and it's a middling episode at best. There's an interesting idea at the heart of the episode, but it's executed somewhat poorly, and there's a little too much... melodrama? Also, it stars Eric Roberts. I'm not normally like this when it comes to actors, but I just take anything this guy does seriously. The mere fact that he's in it is a big strike against it for me, even though he was probably no worse than the other actors in an objective sense. I don't know, maybe he wronged me in a previous life or something. Anyway, he's a private detective and he's been hired to sit in a haunted house whilst staking out the house across the street. But, you know, all is not what it seems. As the episode started, my mind was racing, as there were many interesting directions the episode could have gone. And yet, it doesn't really do any of that. Fleh.
- Community: Mary Harron, who directed American Psycho, did her best with this, but damn, it's derivative and kinda boring. It actually reminded me of an old X-Files episode. Unfortunately, that episode was much better than this one. It's basically a story about the horrors of the suburbs, gated communities, and homeowners associations. It stars Brandon Routh, who's a charismatic actor and does his best, but again, this is a hard episode to elevate. Not recommended.
- The Sacrifice: Once again, we've got an interesting premise that's been executed rather poorly. The setting is rather interesting. A few criminals (though it's never really established what they're doing) have car trouble (that's original!) and seek to take refuge in a nearby... almost Amish-like compound. There's a preacher and three beautiful women living there... along with a pesky vampire. Again, there's some interesting stuff going on here, but the main characters are kinda hackneyed and dumb here, and well, I almost fell asleep watching this. Oh, and Breck Eisner? This is a director who has never had much in the way of success and even if he did, he's not exactly known for horror (which may be a bit of a problem on a series premised on showcasing horror directors). This has been the worst episode yet!
- In Sickness and in Health: Wow, an actual decent episode. On the day of her wedding, Samantha the Bride gets a note with some rather disturbing information about her husband-to-be. It's one of those stories where you're constantly wondering why the hell no one actually wants to talk to each other, but it works well enough, and in the end, there might be a reason for it (even if it's a rather thin reason). Directed by John Landis, it's got some well constructed atmosphere going for it, and the script isn't absolutely awful. Worth a watch...
Well, things haven't been particularly encouraging so far. I doubt I'll get much farther into the series this year, especially seeing as though I still haven't seen all the Masters of Horror episodes (which are also mostly available on Netflix streaming)... See you Sunday for some Wes Craven awesomeness.
Sunday, October 09, 2011
6 Weeks of Halloween: Week 3 - Val Lewton Horror
In 1939, RKO-Radio Pictures was the smallest of the major studios. Its first ten years had been tumultuous, but things were looking up. They had just offered the talented youngster Orson Welles a multimillion dollar contract, hoping to capitalize on his success in their radio division. Welles' first film was Citizen Kane
, which opened to critical praise and has gone on to be frequently cited as the greatest film ever, but which also lost money for the studio at the time. In addition, Charles Foster Kane was obviously based on newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who took the film none too kindly. In response to Welles' hubris, Hearst's media outlets boycotted the film, intimidated theaters into following suit, and threatened RKO exects with exposing fifteen years of suppressed Hollywood scandals. Welles' second film, The Magnificent Ambersons
was even less successful.
After some leadership shakeups, one of the ways RKO sought to reverse their fortunes was to focus on B movies, and specifical B horror movies. Enter Val Lewton, who was offered "artistic freedom" if he accepted a few conditions:
- He had to produce "horror programmers" with runtimes under 75 minutes.
- Each film had to come in under a $150,000 budget.
- Each film's title would be determined by marketing research.
- Lewton's salary would be $250 a week.
Lewton readily agreed, famously noting that "They may think I'm going to do the usual chiller stuff which'll make a quick profit, be laughed at, and be forgotten, but I'm going to fool them . . . I'm going to do the kind of suspense movie I like." And he certainly seemed to do so. There were no classical monsters in Lewton's movies (the closest he came was with zombies, but those aren't the Romero zombies we're all too familiar with these days). They seemed unique and rather restrained. In today's gore-happy world of Human Centipedes and Saws, they seem downright quaint, but they're still very interesting.
- Cat People: RKO studio head Charles Koerner was apparently of the opinion that vampires, werewolves, and man-made monsters had been over-exploited and that "nobody has done much with cats." Before Lewton even went to work, the title was chosen: Cat People. Lewton was apparently terrified of cats and drew on folk tales from his native Russia to make this film. The story concerns a Serbian girl, Irena (played by Simone Simon), who is convinced that she is cursed to turn into a panther and kill the man she loves. In theory, very similar to The Wolf Man (and other "enemy within" type stories), but in practice, a very strange yet well executed film.
There a number of effective sequences, including a nighttime chase sequence where the audible footsteps quickly dissapate, replaced by the quieter patter of a stalking cat. There's also a tense sequence in a pool, and another in an office (where our heroic architect brandishes a T-square, which looks very much like a cross). There are some panthers in the film, but the action is usually shown in shadow - an effective choice. I don't want to give the film too much credit, but it does prefigure a lot of what became known as the hallmarks of film noir. Many of the techniques in this film were used ad nauseam in the decade to follow. For instance, many of the scenes are framed in such a way that Irena is confined by shadows or other such shapes (for instance, at the zoo, the shadows of the zoo's cages surround her), indicating that she is trapped by the curse of her people. This was replicated numerous times in film noir, using things like venetian shades to indicate the bars of confinement. Much of this is due to cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, who was heavily influenced by German Expressionism and who helped refine the various noir techniques throughout the 1940s. Indeed, after launching Lewton's first three films for RKO, director Jacques Tourneur moved out on his own, eventually teaming up with Masuraca again to produce one of the classic films noir, Out of the Past. Cat People is restrained, yet filled with lurid love triangles, repression, and vanity, all exacerbated by the supernatural folk tales of Serbia. The film was a big success, some saying that Cat People saved RKO, which was nearly bankrupted by Welles' shenanigans at the time. It's a tame film by today's standards, but quite interesting nonetheless. ***
- Silver Bullet (Robot Chicken)
- The Leopard Man (trailer)
- Cat People (1982) (trailer)
- The Curse of the Cat People: The most intriguing thing about this sequel? There are no cats or panthers or pumas. Well, in the opening shot, there is a black house cat that scampers across the screen, but other than that, nothing. The title had been handed down from the studio's marketing department, but Lewton, unphased, wrote a "very delicate story of a child who is on the verge of insanity because she lives in a fantasy world." The film features much of the cast of the first film, including the... ghost?... of a cat woman. Despite the lack of cats, it turns out to be a very poetic and personal film about the fears and dangers of childhood. By 1944, RKO had moved Jacques Tourneur on to other things (their thinking being that splitting Lewton and Tourneur, they would get twice the output for the same price), so Lewton hired Gunther von Fritsch, whom he fired almost immediately because he was so slow (remember, these movies were made quickly and on a tight budget). In came a young Robert Wise, who would go on to direct classics like The Haunting and The Andromeda Strain (among many others). Once again, audiences were quite taken with the poetic and humane story presented in the film. It's a very different film, practically unrelated to the original, but still quite effective in its own right. ***
- Full Moon Tonight (Robot Chicken)
- Isle of the Dead (trailer)
- The Seventh Victim (trailer)
- I Walked With a Zombie: I actually watched these films a bit out of order, as this was the second of Lewton's productions, also directed by Jacques Tourneur. A recurring theme of Lewton's work seemed to be his exasperation at the titles he was handed from the marketing department. In this case, he was quite distraught until he came up with the idea to simply adapt one of his favorite books. He described this movie as "Jane Eyre in the West Indies." With zombies. (Note, this was 60-70 years before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the numerous mashups that followed). Not being that familiar with Jane Eyre, I can't say as to how successful Lewton was in terms of adaptation, but the film itself is pretty damn good. There are several standout sequences, my favorite being when two women, dressed in white, navigate through a dark field towards the distant drums of a voodoo ceremony (which are, in themselves, a wonderfully atmospheric touch). Ultimately, I didn't find this as enjoyable as the two Cat People movies, but it was an interesting watch nonetheless. **1/2
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III: Dial "Z" for Zombies (sorry, no clips online)
- Ghost Ship (trailer)
- I Sell the Dead (trailer)
- The Body Snatcher: Another Robert Wise film, this time based on the short story The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson. Here Lewton was relieved by the good title and the classic source material (which also happened to be in the public domain), though exasperation came later when the initial script, which had introduced much more mayhem than Stevenson's original story called for. Lewton himself rewrote the script at the last moment, making sure that the film still appealed to stars Boris Karloff and even the ailing Bela Legosi. Well, whatever his worries, the film turned out fantastic. Wise and Lewton relished being able to create a period piece that could still be filmed cheaply. Legosi was very ill at the time, so he was not quite up to speed, but luckily, he played a rather small part as the mad scientist's half-wit assistant, so his infirmities were actually appropriate for the role. Karloff was at the top of his game though, delivering the sharp dialogue with gusto.
The story concerns a doctor (played by Henry Daniell) who requires fresh cadavers in order to continue his studies and teach his students. The law being somewhat in opposition to this practice, he had to hire an insolent cab-man (Karloff) to rob the graves of the recently deceased. When there are not enough bodies to meet the doctor's needs, the cab-man resorts to murder! It's all very well done, the relationship between the doctor and the cabby gradually escalates with tension, and Karloff and Daniell clearly got under each other's skin. The film reaches its climax with Karloff delivering a wonderful monologue: "I am a small man, a humble man, and, being poor, I have had to do much that I did not want to do. But so long as the great Dr. MacFarlane jumps at my whistle, that long am I a man. And if I have not that, I have nothing." Karloff's performance is something to behold. Having spent most of his career playing various monsters, Karloff clearly relished playing a human being, even if the character was a manipulative villain. In today's parlance, he's just chewing the scenery. Playing opposite Karloff was the capable Henry Daniell, who certainly holds his own as the conflicted and guilty doctor, ashamed of his past and perhaps even his future. Once again, while perhaps a bit grisly for its time, this is tame by today's standards... but it's definitely worth watching for Karloff's performance alone. ***
Ah, it's good to be back in the flow of traditional 6WH posts. Stay tuned for some quick reviews of the Fear Itself anthology series and I think I'll end up covering three Wes Craven movies next week. Recommendations are always welcome, though I can't guarantee I'll get to it (but if it's available on Netflix streaming or Amazon Prime's free streaming, I'll probably give it a shot).
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Fantastic Fest Dispatch #3
Coming down the homestretch, only a few movies/events left to go over. See also: Dispatch #1
and Dispatch #2
- Extraterrestrial - So. Nacho Vigalondo. Best director name ever? Probably. But he's an institution at Fantastic Fest. You see him all over the place, and later in the night, he's usually drunk and very animated. Here at Kaedrin, we're big fans of his work. His 2007 film Timecrimes made my best of the year list, and is an entertaining and intricate time-travel story. He's also the director of numerous short films, including 7:35 in the Morning, which was nominated for an academy award (note to self: seek more of these out!)
As a followup to Timecrimes, Vigalondo started working on an even bigger, even more intricate script. Knowing that it would take a few years to get that going, he set about doing a film in the meantime, which brings us to Extraterrestrial. Julio wakes up in Julia's apartment with quite a hangover. After some awkward pleasantries, he seeks to depart... and that's when they notice. Cell phones, land lines, television, and the internet are down. And there's something, something massive, in the sky, sitting above Madrid.
It's a setup we've seen a million times before, but it doesn't play out like any other similar film. In a very real sense, this is similar to Melancholia in that the SF premise is only a catalyst for the human story. It is almost literally window-dressing. But unlike Melancholia, this movie remains awesome. It's twisted and funny. Really funny, actually. It's Nacho Vigalondo's take on the romantic comedy, and probably best of it's ilk that I've seen in a long time. It's perhaps a bit silly (it is a comedy, after all), but I think it works very well. It doesn't hit all of my personal buttons in quite the way that Timecrimes did, but in a big way, this is a more assured film, and I'm glad that Vigalondo has avoided the dreaded "sophomore slump". Highly recommended - if you get a chance, give it a watch. ***1/2
- The Day - I don't like post-apocalyptic movies. There are a few exceptions, but a filmmaker has to do a lot to make me overcome my disdain. In this film, we follow a group of 5 survivors as they attempt to make it past cannibal-infested land. They're carrying two jars of hope and faith (i.e. seeds), with which they hope to establish a semblance of civilization again. Of course, they get cornered and have to fight, and there are revelations and twists and turns and badass action sequences. In particular Ashley Bell was impressive as the female lead. Not quite Ripley, but clearly a conflicted badass. It's ultimately a fun film, but I always have nagging questions about post-apocalyptic worlds that are never quite explained. Fortunately, this film wisely chooses to completely ignore whatever caused the apocalypse, instead focusing on the struggle for survival. This mitigates the nagging question problem, though those issues still arise after the film ends. This sort of thing might hold it back from true greatness, but I'm also willing to go with it, and the film manages wring tension out of its premise. Good ending too. If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic movies, give it a try. **1/2
- 100 Greatest Kills - So I was sitting next to a guy during The Day whose name was Tron (apparently not named after the movie - he was born before it came out). Very nice fella, and he told me that I would LOVE this 100 Greatest Kills event. I didn't realize it, but apparently they take submissions for the best onscreen kills, and if you submit it, they'll play it during the event. That being said, they try to keep things obscure, though they do give the classics their due. When I first got in the theater, the lights dimmed, and they started playing Stairway to Heaven while showing all of the most famous death scenes. Great selections here, but this isn't really why you attend. They immediately started playing some truly obscure stuff (quite frankly, I don't remember any of these), including a series of kills from 80s VHS movies. Some of the kills were also quite disgusting. For example, in one of the video movies, a guy cuts open a pregnant woman, grabs the baby, screams, and throws it against the wall. This actually sounds a little more horrifying than it looks, as it's quite low budget and very poorly acted, so it comes off as being a little comical. But still disgusting. Some of the others were also pretty gross. Not helping was the little digital gizmo they had that let them play and replay death scenes, sometimes in excruciating slow motion. Examining the Scanners head explosion frame by frame was pretty darn fun. We also watched the Brad Pitt death from Meet Joe Black many times. The final clip was a 15 minute gorefest from another of those video movies from the 80s (seriously, how do people find these things?) and it was quite disturbing. But they gave out free copies of Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive, so look for a capsule review of that during the 6WH... Overall, it's a really fun event. If you're not squeamish, it's highly recommended...
- Master Pancake Presents: Highlander - So this wasn't actually part of Fantastic Fest, but my Austin friends got me a ticket to see it and I cleared my schedule that night to see it. For the uninitiated, Master Pancake is basically like MST3K, but it's performed live. The three guys that do it are very funny, and it's actually quite a production. They start off with a simple introduction and banter, set up a drinking game (in this case, you have to drink anytime sparks appear on screen - and if you've ever seen Highlander, you know that anytime a sword strikes something, it emits sparks, so there was a lot of drinking), and then launch into the film, with a brief intermission and skit performed live onstage in the middle of the film. Lots of mocking, especially of Sean Conner's unbelievable performance as Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (seriously, he plays this Egyptian Spaniard without even attempting to maks his Scottish accent). Very funny, and a great time. If you're ever in Austin, it's well worth trying to get yourself a ticket for Master Pancake! Thanks again to Kaedrin reader and friend Spencer!
And that about covers what I saw at Fantastic Fest. I saw 19 movies, went to 4 events, and of course, Master Pancake too. I won't go through the pomp and circumstance of a full awards post, but here are a few:
All in all, quite a successful festival. Will I go again next year? It would certainly be really nice, but I'll have to see what my schedule is like (not to mention money, vacation time, and so on). I definitely want to go to the festival again sometime, as I did have a blast... And that concludes my Fantastic Fest posting. Regular 6WH
posts to resume this weekend (this week's theme: Val Lewton horror!)
Sunday, October 02, 2011
Fantastic Fest Dispatch #2
As mentioned in the first dispatch, Fantastic Fest was quite a hectic but fun week for me. I don't really have much to say in terms of an introduction, but there are some thoughts on the festival itself interspersed with the movie reviews below. Also, just to mention that this technically represents the second week in my annual 6 Weeks of Halloween
horror movie marathon. It doesn't take the general form of most 6WH posts, but there's plenty of horror and weirdness below, so enjoy! See also: Dispatch #1
and Dispatch #3
- Fantastic Arcade Story In Videogames - One of the neat things about Fantastic Fest is that it's not all movies all the time. Over at the Highball, they set up something called the "Fantastic Arcade". Filled with Free-Play arcade cabinets and various PC/PS3/X360 machines, you could just wander around and play games all day if you wanted. There was a nice indie-game competition as well. And there was even a series of panels surrounding various issues in gaming. This particular panel was all about how to work story into video games, and it featured a team from Lightbox Interactive (makers of the forthcoming Starhawk) and a couple of filmmakers, including best-director-name-ever (and apparently a Fantastic Fest institution) Nacho Vigalondo. The panel started off a bit like an advertisement for Starhawk, but as with any panel featuring Nacho Vigalondo, things derailed pretty quickly and thus became much more interesting. They discussed the preponderance of cut-scenes and the inherent challenges of video games, especially how video games tend to put players "on rails" and the ways around that. Then Nacho started talking about how the Angry Birds are actually the villains in that game (terrorists?), thus kicking off a 15 minute digression into the various incongruities of Angry Birds, including the architectural style of the pigs (their structures often seem pretty impressive at first, but then you realize that they've sometimes just completely surrounded a pig in the structure, essentially burying it alive!) All in good fun. I had to leave a little early to catch my next movie, but it was definitely a lot of fun.
- Melancholia - The best part of this movie was the 15-20 minute interview with director Lars von Trier that preceded the film (he was not there in person as he apparently does not fly, but had participated in a Skype interview earlier in the day). He was very open and honest and even quite funny. The film, on the other hand, was a bit of a mess. I shouldn't say that, as von Trier certainly knows his way around the camera, and the film is, as always, immaculately composed and shot. The story, on the other hand, is quite unfulfilling.
The opening of the film is actually brilliant. It's very arty and experimental and whatnot, but also compelling and visually spectacular (it also doesn't appear to fit in with the timeline of the rest of the film). From there, the movie rewinds, focusing on a wedding between Justine (Kirstin Dunst, apparently recommended to Von Trier by PT Anderson!) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård, True Blood fame). At first, it seems like a typical rich folks wedding reception at a huge country club, but it soon becomes clear that there are deep problems in the family, and Dunst's character is suffering from chronic depression. This part of the film is somewhat insufferable. After the wedding, we find out that there's another planet (unironically called planet Melancholia) that is on a collision course (or perhaps just a close flyby) with Earth. That is quite an interesting concept, but the film only really uses it as window dressing - something that sets off the depression amongst the family. I'd be curious about the actual physics of all this. For a time it does come off as being plausible, though there is one event towards the end that I couldn't come up with a feasible explanation for... but again, this isn't really the film's main point.
At one point, I thought maybe there would be a twist that the characters were actually on Melancholia, and that it was the Earth that was appearing in the sky, but that doesn't pan out. However, the film does seem to be set in an other-worldly location. They mention a nearby town, but for the most part, the entire movie is set on the grounds of a golf course/country club, and after the wedding, there really aren't any other characters that show up. It's a really bizarre setting for the film, which could have been fine, but I don't think it was really in service of anything. The final sequence of the film is also pretty great, but not enough to make up for all the stuff that happens in between. Again, very well made, but didn't really do much for me. **
- Beyond the Black Rainbow - Very experimental and trippy, like a slower version of the end of 2001, drawn out over 110 minutes. The story, inasmuch as there is a story, is about a young girl who is seemingly trapped in an institute that bills itself as a technological cure for various mental maladies (or something). Who is she? Why doesn't she talk? Why can't she leave? What's going on at this institute? What's with the girl's doctor? These questions aren't really answered, but you do get a series of dreamlike vignettes that are visually interesting, if not really spectacular. As if the film wasn't trippy enough, at one point, we get a flashback where one character does acid, after which we're treated to a 10 minute scene where he's submerged in black liquid and his face melts (Spoiler? Not really.) Things get more interesting towards the end of the film. We see that the girl (and her doctor) seems to have some sort of mental powers, and the film becomes something of an escape film. But that's probably giving it too much credit for plot. There is a narrative, but it seems more appropriate for a 15 minute short than an almost 2 hour film. I don't hate this film. It's got some merits and I'm glad I got to watch it, but it's also not a particularly good film either. **
- Knuckle - There were only two documentaries playing at Fantastic Fest, and this was one of them. It follows 12 years of a violent feud between two (or maybe three) Irish Traveler clans. Most of this is accomplished via bare-knuckle fighting (officiated by third party clans). Interestingly, the documentary seems to have come about by accident. Director Ian Palmer was hired to videotape a wedding, and from there, the various Traveler families (especially the Quinn McDonaghs) allowed him to tag along at the various fights and tape them for their own records. It seems that the feuding families often produced video tapes taunting the opposing family and sending for representatives at the next fight. After 12 years of this, Palmer compiled everything together, did some additional interviews, and made this movie. Videotape isn't exactly a high-quality medium, but in this case, it's an accurate representation of what was happening and everything was very well documented. Ultimately, the film plays out like a microcosm of all human conflict. The two main families in the film are actually blood related, but their feud goes back decades, and few are interested in ending the conflict. Listening to various family members talk about it is almost heartbreaking, not just because these two families seem to be locked in a circle of violence, but because we can so easily recognize the pattern. You can see this sort of needless conflict all throughout history and even in present day conflicts. It might be too presumptuous to apply it to something as controversial as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but like I said, the movie is a microcosm. It's a much smaller conflict, but it still seems hopeless, especially when Palmer cuts to young children playing in the street, pretending to fight. It is not a perfect movie, but it was one of the more interesting and thought provoking films of the festival. ***
- Fantastic Debates! - After Knuckle came the Fantastic Debates, an annual tradition wherein two folks participate in a traditional verbal debate, then box for two rounds. This year's debates featured two hobbits debating the benefits of World of Warcraft, two comedians debating whether robots were better than humans, an astrophysicist debating the "fuck Nasa" guy (I'm not generally a violent guy, but I enjoyed seeming him get an ass whooping), and finally, the main event, Alamo Drafthouse mogul and FF organizer Tim League fighting James Quinn (the undefeated bare knuckle brawler from Knuckle) over the topic "Texans are tougher than the Irish" (I particularly enjoyed the way League was able to argue his point while at the same time kissing Quinn's ass). It was all great fun, and there are numerous vids covering the event on youtube. This is the sort of event I'd love to go back in time and watch from previous years. The only drawback to the event was that an apparently great movie was scheduled at the same time, and didn't have any other showings during the festival. Dammit.
- The Corridor - Four lifelong friends go camping in a remote area and discover an impossible hallway in the woods. They've been the best of friends, but things are changing. They're getting older, balder, crazier, and so on. It hits the two main tropes pretty hard. I mean, how many movies about old friends camping do we really need to see? The early-mid-life crisis stuff is a little less trodden, but still a pretty common thing, and the film is a bit too on the nose with some of its commentary on that subject. That being said, the actual corridor piece is pretty interesting, and there are quite a few creepy sequences that result from that. It was actually well made and acted, and I did enjoy watching it, but I think I would have appreciated a little less cliche in the script. **
- Elite Squad: The Enemy Within - One of the frustrating things about film festivals in general is that you don't always get into the popular screenings. But at Fantastic Fest, this can be a blessing in disguise. I had originally planned to see the "Secret Screening" at this time, but it was sold out. I later learned that the secret screenings are generally not very interesting (I was expecting some crazy movie I never heard of, but it was apparently Paranormal Activity 3, which will be out in wide release in less than a month). So I had to "settle" for this film: a most excellent Brazilian film about police corruption. It would actually make a nice companion to City of God. That film was told from the perspective of children growing up in a violent neighborhood. This film is told from the perspective of the police.
At first, I was a little worried about the political posturing of the film. For example, early in the film, the voiceover decries the political left. It's a seemingly typical sentiment among law enforcement: liberals make it hard to do their job. Later in the film, you start to see the corruption on the police side of things. And finally, the film reaches an equilibrium, not endorsing either side, but rather, emphasizing that both sides must work together in order to succeed. It's an interesting, well considered position, and films that can pull off that balancing act are few and far between. Oh, and there are also good characters and even some decent action sequences. I really enjoyed this film, one of my favorites of the festival. This is apparently the second film in a series, so I'll have to seek out the first film, because this was really fantastic. ***
- Karate Robo Zaborgar - Another film that wasn't my first choice, but which wound up being one of my favorites of the festival. It's apparently a loving remake/parody of a 70s Japanese television show about robots, karate, and, of course, sexy lady cyborgs. I don't think I can sufficiently explain the pure insanity on screen here, but it's got everything you want out of a Japanese comedy film. You've got motorcycles transforming into robots (apparently the original series was part of the inspiration for Transformers), a ludicrous love story, a group of down-on-their-luck former police officers called "The League of Smiles", and, of course, someone lights their fart as a form of propulsion. Again, difficult to describe, but I was laughing the entire time. Well worth a watch, especially for fans of Japanese robot cinema! ***
- Borderline - A French film following a beaten down family man and lawyer who stumbles on a bag of drugs, and decides to start selling it to make ends meet. Of course, the original owner of the bag eventually tracks him down, and things go downhill from there. It may not sound like the setup for a pure comedy, but it's quite funny, though it gets a bit dark later in the film. Still, a very solid movie. Not quite as uproariously funny as Zaborgar, and actually quite tame for a festival like this, but it's a fun film. **1/2
- Juan of the Dead - One of the most popular films of the festival, this Cuban zombie film is quite funny. Unfortunately, just by virtue of its title, it forces comparison to the nearly perfect Shaun of the Dead, a film that's better than this one. That being said, there's a lot to like here, and it was definitely one of the funnier films of the festival. Like most zombie films, it doesn't really have much direction, but it's actually got some well drawn characters and some decent arcs that elevate this movie above a lot of other zombie movies. I'm not typically a big fan of zombie movies, but I really enjoyed this and it's definitely worth seeking out. Also of note, director Alejandro Brugués has challenged Fantastic Fest mainstay Nacho Vigalondo to a Fantastic Debate next year (with the topic of "What the fuck is Timecrimes about?". I guess this means I'll need to go back next year! ***
- Cost of Living (short) - I didn't go to any of the film shorts programs that Fantastic Fest had, but they do show some shorts in front of movies, and this one was so good that I had to call it out. It's about two security guards who work at some sort of science institute. Basically one of those places that only exist in video games that create mosters, which of course get loose and start wreaking havoc.
Anyway, Brandon Routh is absolutely hysterical here, and if you ever get a chance to watch this short, go for it (a quick search did not yield any videos, but perhaps it will be available someday). ***
- The Squad - A squad of Columbian soldiers comes upon an outpost suspected of being attacked by guerrillas. What they find is less than clear. A cryptic outpost log sheds no light, and then someone discovers a lone, traumatized survivor in a room that has been sealed off by bricks. Rumors quickly abound that she's a witch that caused the destruction of the outpost. It's actually a somewhat interesting premise. Unfortunately, the entire thing is bungled. I never got a sense for any of the characters, the layout of the outpost and surrounding environs was very poorly established, the squad does not act like any military unit I've ever seen, and everyone actions like an idiot. This is a movie that relies heavily on character interactions, but I feel like we were missing a lot. I didn't care about or like any of the characters, yet the dialogue assumes that we do. All throughout the movie, people keep talking to this one character, Ponce, as if we know who he is or care about him in any way, but of course, we don't. The entire film is framed in medium shots and closeups, and most of the camerawork is handheld and shaky. It's also got some weird depth-of-field issues. All of these things can be effective if used for a specific reason in specific situations. They can emphasize the isolation of the characters or the chaos of battle, but when they're used this often, they yield diminishing returns and only serve as a distraction. The story is almost non-existent. There's clearly some traumatic history for this squad, and the film references it numerous times, but I ultimately found that I could really care less. It wasn't scary, there's no real plot, and its atmosphere suffers because of it. There is actually quite a nice final shot in the film that I really liked, but it was too little too late. My least favorite film of the festival. *
- Let the Bullets Fly - I know a lot of critics say this, and it seems absurd, but watching 4-5 movies a day can be exhausting. By the time I got to this movie on the fifth day of the festival, I was starting to flag. It's a lighthearted action comedy starring Chow Yun Fat and featuring an intricate, Yojimbo-like plot. I have to say, it seemed like it was a ton of fun, and I did enjoy myself, but I was clearly fatigued. Maybe it was just that The Squad sucked so bad, or maybe it was because I'd just seen, like, 5 subtitled movies in a row and this one had really quick dialogue, or perhaps I had too many late nights and early wakeups. I was exhausted at this point. I watched the whole movie and managed to enjoy it, but it's something I want to revisit at some point when I'm more refreshed. I'll refrain from rating it at this point, but it did seem like a good film, so check it out.
- Fantastic Fest Awards - So I was very tired, but this sort of event re-energized me a bit, or perhaps I just got my second wind. There were lots of various awards handed out, including awards for bumpers, which takes some explaining. Most film festivals feature a short promo for the festival itself at the beginning of each screening. That short film is called a bumper. It's usually the same short film, over and over again, but Fantastic Fest is different. They select a theme (this year's was Altered States, which most people took to mean drugs), then accept submissions from local filmmakers, and we wind up seeing a different bumper before each showing. Some are funny, some are disgusting, some are just plain bizarre. The winning bumper was one of the disgusting ones which basically depicted a vasectomy. It was certainly shocking, but quite frankly, it was rather stupid and didn't demonstrate any talent on the filmmaker's part (the way most of the other ones do). Anyway, they also gave out awards for a bunch of films and short films, and it seems that You're Next was a big winner, much to the chagrin of its producer, who had to accept all the awards. At this point, I should note that the awards were basically big beer mugs, and in order to accept the award, you have to chug it... so this guy basically had to chug 5 mugs of beer within about 15 minutes. It was all pretty funny. This was a fun event, but I'm not sure it'd be something I'd want to go to every year (if I went to the festival every year). On the other hand, it was exactly what I needed at this point in the festival.
- The Fantastic Feud - So every year, they do this horror trivia challenge, pitting international filmmakers and critics against American filmmakers and critics. The whole thing takes the format of family feud, and it's quite fun. The only real drawback was that it was really short this year, like only 40 minutes long (apparently previous years were much longer and even more fun). I had a great time, but as previously mentioned, I was exhausted, so I was almost glad to be finished for the day... Still, it was one of my favorite events, and definitely something I'd do again (if I ever go again!)
Whew, I still have a bunch of other things to write about (including a review of Nacho Vigalondo's excellent Extraterrestrial
), but this entry has already grown to mammoth proportions, so I'll save that for Wednesday, perhaps along with some other thoughts about the festival. After that, the 6 Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon will resume as normal.
Added some images to this post. Fixed some typos. Added links to other FF dispatches.
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